Becoming a Professional Engineer

So now that I’ve stopped working like a mad-woman buried under piles of documents, I can get back to the really important stuff…like blogging! So something interesting happened this week. My boss (the tiny but feisty female chemical engineer-I need to interview her for asap) got back from Greece and we had a nice long chat about my future!
This is something that had been causing me mild distress recently, so I was happy to finally talk about it. Did you know there were so many different professional options you could follow as a young, grad engineer?
Firstly, there is the obvious option of a masters program. This can be done later on in life and usually takes two years, full-time, but in this economy, many of my ex-classmates went straight into masters programs.
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Obviously if it is fully funded, and you know exactly what field you want to specialize in, then why wait? But if not, I don’t think there is any harm in waiting a few years, getting some industry experience and figuring it out. Also, importantly, you can use that time to get professionally registered!
What is professional registration? Ever heard of a disciplined engineer or responsible engineer? Well, every country has their own unique set of laws/ professional associations/ requirements for you to register as a professional engineer, but basically what it means is that you will be able to take responsibility for certain things such as designs, changes or decisions you make for the company you work for.
In South Africa for example, the two main routes you can take are either to get a GCC (Government Certificate of Competency) or a PR ENG (Professional Registration in your discipline with the Engineering Council of SA-ECSA). The latter means you’ll have letters behind your name like this:
Engineer, PR Eng
Cool huh? So whats the difference? Well I’ll forgive you for not knowing, I wasn’t exactly sure myself until this week!

You get a GCC by taking a test. Once you’ve worked 2 years in the field (and by ‘the field’ I mean either a mine/ plant environment or a factory) you are eligible to sit the GCC exam. You have to study for it and apparently it can be quite tough.

If you are a ‘ticketed engineer’ (have passed the GCC exam) you can take responsibility for major decisions that happen at the operation you manage, and your pay skyrockets of course. The downside is of course, if you’ve signed off on something that fails and injures someone, you can be held accountable!

The PR Eng option is slightly different. There is no exam, but at the end of a three-year training period after graduation, you have to submit a report proving that you’ve met certain objectives.
These objectives must have been met through the work you have done over that training period. This means you and your mentor could structure the projects you work on to ensure that each one covers a different area and meets a different objective.

At the end of three years, you put all those projects together in a report and submit it. If accepted, you will be recognised as a true professional in the field. For example, as a mechanical engineer, I would be able to design systems and components and sign them off myself!

This still carries the risks of accountability if something goes wrong, and the benefits of the pay increase…of course!
So after many long months of deliberating (not really-I’ve known which route I wanted to follow since November) I have decided that a professional engineer I will be! And no, that not just because I want letters behind my name and I don’t want to sit another exam! (Although they are good reasons)…
Any professional engineers or ticketed engineers out there who would like to share their experiences? I’d love to hear it!

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